Some people choose their hotels for its location, while others choose based on the quality of service. In Japan, I choose hotels for the quality of their ofuro,or the Japanese bath. Here are a few of my favorites:
HYATT REGENCY KYOTO
No sharedofurohere, but suites come with the traditional deep, rectangular wooden soaking tubs. They are five feet across, and you can splash away as the entire bathing area is a single wet room.
Not to miss:the subtly scented products by Chidoriya (in the better rooms).
FOUR SEASONS KYOTO
The newest Western luxury hotel in town has particularly well-designed shower areas that transform into large wet rooms. There is also a stoneofuroin the excellent basement-level spa.
Not to miss:the rotating assortment of locally made Japanese beauty products.
PARK HYATT TOKYO
The original hotel-in-the-sky has a relatively small in-roomofuro, but there’s a large, womblike bath, plus cold pool and two saunas, in the 45th-floor spa (the famous hotel pool is two floors above).
Not to miss:the multitude of Aesop beauty products in the changing room.
Water is the focus of this beautifully minimalist hotel in the city’s business district. The 30-meter pool is dazzling; the smallishofurodown the hall has views of the entire eastern half of Tokyo.
Not to miss:The in-room bath is the best I’ve ever seen—spectacularly deep, made from dark stone, and surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows.
This new addition to the Tokyo luxury hotel scene is a ryokan in a high-rise. As in a traditional ryokan, no shoes are allowed (they are stored in bamboo-and-chestnut boxes in the entryway), and the ofuro, on the 17th-floor, is likely the most spectacular in the city: two enormous rectangles of very salty, kelp-infused water pumped up from 1,500 meters below ground.
Not to miss: The second ofuro has 30-foot ceilings that crescendo in a vast skylight; come at night, when the bath is almost entirely dark.
The town of Shizuoka, between Kyoto and Tokyo, is known for its tea and tea-focused activities, and that goes for the baths themselves. This one is studded with little wicker caddies stuffed with sachets of green tea.
Not to miss: the equally memorable post-bath options, including a make-your-own green tea facial mask and green tea–flavored ice pops.
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AMANEMU (IN ISE-SHIMA NATIONAL PARK)
Overlooking Ago Bay, four hours by train from Tokyo, it probably has moreofurosquare footage than any other hotel: in-room baths, a spa dedicated to water therapies, and two pool-size outdoor thermal springs with swim-up cabanas (swimwear required).
Not to miss:The in-roomofurodispenses 60°C water piped from the springs.
The wealthy resort town of Karuizawa, an hour’s train ride north of Tokyo, is famous for its winter skiing and cool summer air. Aside from the in-roomofurothere are two large public ones and dedicated hours at the localonsen, which has an extensive outdoor hot spring.
Not to miss:The “dark room”ofuroon the property. Pitch black, cavernous, and silent—and smelling (not unpleasantly) of limestone and earth—it is weirdly relaxing; you feel as if you’re floating through outer space.